The Cowboy’s Last Song
“Anytime you’re ready, Chloe.” I tapped my dress shoes patiently, leaning against my bedroom dresser.
“Chill out, Daddy. You don’t have many tie options.” The little muffled voice drifted out of my walk-in closet.
“Maybe I don’t need a tie.” I fingered my favorite charcoal Stetson off the peg and placed it smoothly on my head.
Being a clothes horse with expensive suits and ties had taken a backseat to nannies, a 529 college plan, and lawyers. I’d spent almost every penny I had to get custody of my daughter after Chloe’s mother died in a horse-riding accident five years ago, turning both our lives upside down.
“You’re signing a new recording contract today. You need a tie.” All four-foot-nine inches and the utter love of my life marched out of the closet with a blue and gray striped tie. “Here.”
“Nice.” I took it from her and tugged her long braid, glossy and dark like my hair. “Thank you. What would I do without you?”
“Not wear a tie, obviously.” She shrugged her shoulders and dove onto my bed. “Can I check your emails?”
“Uncle Cam sent you a text.” She made a good assistant for an eleven-year-old. “He’s picking us up in ten minutes.”
I knotted my tie and tucked the silk dress shirt into my slacks, catching a glimpse of my hip tattoo. Layla. It hit me. Chloe was a little lady. Growing up. And soon she’d be asking tough questions. Starting with: why hadn’t I married her mother?
Your mother didn’t want to marry a broke musician working on a drinking problem probably wasn’t the right answer.
When Layla died, I went from being a long-distance, FaceTime, see your kid occasionally father to a full-time single dad who had to buck up and fly right for once. Before getting custody, I’d lost my first two recording contracts for just plain ole stupid behavior. My journey from Nashville rising star to damaged goods in seven years had been brutal.
“Are you looking forward to this summer, Clo?” When my daughter didn’t answer, a stab of worry sliced through me.
She’d been spending July and August each year with Layla’s parents back home in Wild Heart, Texas. That concession was key to me getting custody. Cord Renner, rich for those parts with money to burn on lawyers had always hated me and fought like a sumbitch to keep Chloe from me.
“Chloe? I asked you a question.”
“Yeah. I miss Sweet Bell.” Her mentioning one of Layla’s horses always made my stomach cramp.
Layla’s parents adored their granddaughter and she was well cared for with them. So far, everyone on Renner Ranch respected my no-horse-riding rule. It tore me up every summer to leave her there, but I needed those months to tour and promote my albums to maintain some visibility with my fans. The ache still crippled me, though.
After being dropped from a third label for the dreaded ‘poor album sales,’ my confidence was running on tractor fumes. Leaving me to wonder if my bad boy persona sold more albums than my music.
When Cam, my best friend and manager, worked magic to secure me a recording deal with Blue Rock Records, I knew it was my last chance here in Music City. An independent music label didn’t scare me as much as facing Harper Montgomery, Blue Rock’s Talent Relations VP.
“Is your school bag packed up?” I studied my daughter through the mirror, her legs scissoring against the unmade covers on my bed. “I told them I’d bring you in after lunch.”
“Yeah.” She kept her eyes on my phone, swiping at my pictures, even rolling over to take those selfies I loved.
Since getting custody, I’d been pushing and punishing myself, zigzagging across the country to hit every possible arena during the summer months. Going into my phone and seeing Chloe’s smiles when she wasn’t around made those two grueling months on the road bearable.
On the road, far away from my daughter, I lived in the shadow of the bad boy I once was: the country music god who only cared about singing on stage, boozing it up after a show, and enjoying an occasional, discreet, consenting woman.
When the doorbell rang in several twangy chimes, Chloe twisted around and flew off the bed. “I’ll get it!”
“Let Marta answer it.” I tried to snag Chloe’s arm to kiss her forehead, but she slipped away.
She grew distant this time of year. Probably a defense mechanism to cope with being away from me for a couple of months. Not seeing her everyday destroyed me, too, but she did a better job of hiding it.
After one last look in the mirror, pinching and tugging on the silk suit to survive the early June Nashville heat, I secured the Stetson more firmly on my head and left the bedroom.
Watching Chloe twirl for her uncle Cam showing off her new pale blue dress, squeezed my heart. Thank God for that man. Layla’s big brother had stayed solidly in my corner during the brutal custody battle. Cam was the bridge between me and the rich Renner clan who took possession of Chloe every summer.
“Ready, J?” Cam was not only my manager, but my best friend. “Nice suit.”
“I picked out the tie.” Chloe put her hands on her little hips.
“I was just going to say that was the best part.” Cam took out his keys and handed them to Chloe. “Clo-Clo, can you wait in the car?”
“Not in the car, it’s ninety degrees,” Marta, my current nanny, objected loudly from the kitchen.
“Do you need to talk to Daddy alone?” Chloe rolled her eyes at Cam.
“Yes,” Cam answered, pursing his lips.
“I’ll be outside.” Chloe opened the front door, gave me a smirk, and disappeared with Marta, who carried her school bag.
“You okay, J?”
“No.” I laid flat palms on the console next to the front door. “She hates me.”
“Chloe doesn’t hate you.”
“You can’t be talking about Marta, that woman has the sweetest gig ever. You’re usually around all day, you barely go out at night, and Chloe goes back to Texas every summer.”
I glared at Cam. “I’m talking about Harper Montgomery.”
“Oh, that her.” Cam’s eyebrows arched and he said, “Harper,” with a little more apprehensive care this time.
Harper. The woman who wrote my first big hit, the song that launched my career and propelled me to instant stardom.
The woman who asked for one night in my bed seven years ago.
The woman I turned down.
I needed that very woman to write me another hit song and save my career.
“You had an awkward moment with Harper seven years ago. Has she reached out to you at all since?”
Awkward moment all right. I refused to sleep with one of the most beautiful women I’d ever laid eyes on. “If she did reach out to me, I never got the message.”
“All messages go through me. Do you think I’d hold back a call from the Nashville Hitmaker?”
“No.” I blew out a breath and snuck one more look in the mirror.
“This is a good day, Jamie. I think you’re gonna be very happy with Blue Rock. Niche labels have been very successful in recent years.”
I rubbed my chin. Damn, I forgot to shave!
Losing three contracts in seven years because of stupid choices I made on the road already made me a tragedy, and now I looked strung out as well.
I’d come full circle or was it a vicious circle?
“Okay, let’s do this.” I prayed Harper had forgotten all about that night.
How could this be happening? Over my objections, no less. But alas, Jamie Miller was signing a recording contract with Blue Rock Records. I wondered if he even knew I was the VP of Talent Relations.
With the stroke of a pen later that afternoon, Jamie would be the talent and I’d have a relationship with him. The singer I’d worked all summer with seven years ago and kept it mighty professional which wasn’t easy given his off-the-charts talent, the face of a god, and a smile that lit up a honky-tonk more than any neon sign. And that wicked sense of humor of his had left me giggling like a schoolgirl.
In an emergency VP meeting, Gregory Blue, my CEO, asked the marketing team to pass out Jamie Miller’s press package including photos. I glanced up to see if anyone was watching me melt down as I slid the media kit open.
I’d ruined everything with Jamie. The night before he left to sign his first record deal, I had a few shots of whiskey in me and put myself out there, I propositioned him for sex. One night. Something I’d never done with a man before. And in an instant, I’d made myself look like all the groupies he encountered on the road. Losing all my credibility with the man.
When Jamie Miller turned me down, I’d never been so embarrassed in my life. It’d been a hard climb back all these years, getting over that one stupid move.
Staring at his press package, I ordered the butterflies in my stomach to calm the heck down. I stuffed away the hypnotic headshots in a folder as if they meant nothing—as if those remarkable green eyes didn’t jump off the glossy prints to greet me.
As a songwriter and a producer for country music’s biggest stars now, my daily routine included a steady parade of beautiful men.
Jamie Miller was a ten-car pile-up on the highway. He possessed that lethal combination of killer good looks and an amazing voice.
After the rest of the meeting passed in a blur, I slipped out the conference room’s rear door, avoiding the stampede of Blue Rockers who wanted a glimpse of country music’s gorgeous bad boy waiting in the lobby. Dazed, I dug my high heels into the carpet to bolt to my office with my assistant Maisy in tow. I had to collect my senses in private.
“Harper, wait!” Michael Bradley called out, following me out of the conference room.
I ignored him and kept walking, afraid the emotions storming through me would show all over my face.
“Your mother called again, Harper,” my assistant said, glancing behind us.
I sighed. “Did she leave a message?”
“Yep. Poppy, this is your mother calling again. Just because you’re a big shot label executive, you can still call your Grammy-award-winning mother.”
“You’re starting to sound like her.” I gave a small smirk, but the repeated messages meant there were probably issues at Gigi’s rehab facility. Again. Something else to deal with.
“Harper Montgomery, I know you can hear me!” Michael’s voice boomed down the hall, stopping everyone from moving.
“Wha-at?” I turned sharply in his direction, a tendril of my long dark hair nearly hitting him in the face.
As if the smell of my hair aroused him, he took a moment before saying, “You’re being unreasonable about this whole Jamie thing.”
“You signed someone over my repeated objections.” I shot Michael a burning stare.
“You were overruled on this one. By a landslide, I’m afraid.” Michael crossed his arms against his broad chest. “And last I checked, I run Blue Rock’s A&R department. Artists and Repertoire. I sign the artists.”
“And I have to keep their butts in line,” I snapped back, even though Talent Relations was in the rearview for me. I had my eye on the CEO throne. Gregory Blue had announced his retirement a few months back. But ignoring my opinions on signing Jamie shook my confidence to the core making me wonder if Gregory thought I didn’t have what it took to run his record company.
“I don’t get what you have against me signing the man,” Michael argued. “You wrote his first big hit.”
“And since then, he’s managed to lose three recording contracts. Excuse me if I don’t want Blue Rock to be his sloppy seconds.”
“Fourths,” Maisy mumbled.
“Right, the fourth in line to pick up the pieces. We’re better than that, Michael.”
“Jamie knows he has a lot of ground to make up.” Michael stood firm. “I was given assurances all that nonsense on the road is far behind him.”
I expected Jamie to show up at Blue Rock’s doorstep either with guns blazing to repair his damaged reputation or just blazing mad for being held back. Did Gregory Blue have a soft spot for hard-luck cases, or did he believe a Jamie Miller hit under the Blue Rock label would put our little music company on the map before he retired?
“He’s not signed yet, so that means he’s still all yours. Your prospect.” I dug my heels back in to attempt another escape.
Michael scooped away everything in my arms, clumsily brushing against my breasts. After a strange look passed between us, he said, “Jamie’s being brought to my office right now. I’m gonna sign the contract in a few minutes. He brought his manager. Come with me. We’ll welcome him together.”
“You want me there?” My eyes wildly looked for any reflective surface to catch a harried glimpse of myself. “You never asked me to a signing before.”
“We don’t sign someone like Jamie Miller every day.”
“Sounds like you have everything under control.” I clawed at Michael’s muscular chest to pry my stuff free.
“Some CEO you’d make if you don’t even want to welcome an artist who will hopefully make us all a lot of money.”
I dropped my hands at my side, shock and awe rolling through me. Did Michael actually go there? Was I being unreasonable? Was I letting my personal humiliation get in the way? I had been laser-focused on bringing out the best in my artists. Let the Blue Rock stars shine while I stayed in the background.
Under no circumstances did I ever have the mind to get involved with one of them. Before Jamie Miller reentered the picture, that had been as easy as catching mosquitos with a glass of warm lemonade next to a swamp.
“Let’s just level-set our understanding with him right away. Set the tone of what we expect. Together.” Michael drew up close to me, leaving no space for Maisy to hear what was sensitive label business between two VPs. “You know how important this contract is. We need this for our survival.”
“I know that.” I folded my arms, my throat tight with heat at just the thought of making eye contact with Jamie.
Much of the wow factor he projected had melted away as we built what I thought was a solid friendship. Then I went and messed things up by suggesting we sleep together.
“Maisy?” Michael dumped my phone, iPad, and folders in my assistant’s free hands. “Do not give Harper any of this back until she meets with Jamie.”
When Michael spun and trekked away, his backside shifted exquisitely in his tight dress trousers.
Michael had been a godsend of a friend from the day I arrived in Nashville and stayed in that friend zone. As the years wore on, an emptiness I couldn’t vanquish had hollowed me out. I didn’t want to believe only Jamie Miller could complete me. When I couldn’t find those same prickles of excitement anywhere or with anyone else, I’d focused on my career. Driven to be one of the very few female CEOs for a music label. It was a goal. Now at thirty-three, it was a blessed life raft because I had nothing else in my life.
Except for a troubled mother, a string of hits with my name on them, and royalty checks hitting my bank account every month. From a distance, I had it all. Up close, anyone would see how lonely I was. Which was why I never let anyone get too close.
Sighing, I turned back to Maisy and frowned. “You’re not going to give me back my stuff, are you?”
My assistant shook her head. “You might as well go say hello to Jamie.”
Annoyed, I trudged to Michael’s office, hoping with all my might Jamie had forgotten all about our little misunderstanding in Austin seven years ago.
Read how Jamie tries to backpedal why he didn’t kiss Harper…